New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and numerous Council members proposed legislation that prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. New York City has already led the nation and the world in fighting tobacco use using high taxes on cigarettes and making it illegal to sell single cigarettes.
The thinking behind this proposal is stopping children from smoking before they become addicted. Nearly all smokers start as kids or young adults, so curtailing smoking among these age groups is critical to winning the fight against tobacco and reducing the deaths, disease and healthcare costs it causes. This proposal, if approved, would make New York City the first major city or state in the nation to have a minimum tobacco purchase age of 21.
Supporters of the proposed legislation say it will help protect young people who have been heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. According to a release issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the U.S. Surgeon General has found that nearly 9 out of 10 smokers started smoking by age 18, and 99 percent started by age 26.
Opponents however feel this is yet another example of New York’s “nanny state,” which came under national focus when Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to pass a ban on the size of large sugary drinks and sodas, earlier this year. That ban was struck down by a judge as being too vague to enforce.
Jane Seccombe, spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Snuff Co., and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., said in a statement, “We believe no minors, however they’re classified in those jurisdictions, should be able to access tobacco products.”
She declined to comment on any potential sales impact from changes in the minimum age.